If the name Esperanza Spalding doesn’t ring any bells, than perhaps you haven’t been paying much attention to the jazz music scene lately. The 26-year-old bassist, vocalist and composer was recently nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy, so you have a month (the awards show airs on February 13) to find out why the New York Times describes her performances as “light, melodic, joyful.”
Born in Portland, Oregon to an African-American father and a Mexican-Welsh mother, Spalding learned Spanish from her Cuban nanny. It was this mish-mash of cultures that defined the trilingual singer’s style as a fusion of Latin and Brazilian rhythms. Growing up, she learned to play different instruments through sheer will, having taught herself the classical violin at the age of five before discovering the bass as a teenager.
The afro-haired wunderkind then perfected her skills at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, where she eventually became the youngest-ever instructor as a 20-year-old. So it was only a matter of time before her impressive resume caught the eye of respected jazz musicians like legendary pianist Michel Camilo and saxophonist Joe Lovano, who invited her to gig with them.
Her major label debut came in 2008 with the album Esperanza, which held steady on the Billboard charts for 62 weeks and spurred President Obama to invite her perform at his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 2009. Her follow-up, Chamber Music Society, was released this past August and features intimate, innovative string trio arrangements, as well as a collaboration with iconic Brazilian composer Milton Nascimento called “Apple Blossom.”
Needless to say, the very soulful Spalding is no newbie—but we're still hoping she nabs the Best New Artist prize away from fellow-nominees Drake, Justin Bieber, Florence + the Machine and Mumford & Sons at the 2011 Grammy awards.
Here’s Spalding performing “Little Fly” from Chamber Music Society.